Sunday, September 7, 2008

With Respect to the KJV

For those unfamiliar with the issue, KJV-onlyism refers to the opinion (or belief, depending on the person) that the 1611 Authorized King James Version of the Bible is the only English translation that anyone should read. That description covers a wide range of sentiments on the issue, ranging from "I prefer to read the KJV," to "the Textus Receptus, on which the KJV is based, is God's perfectly preserved Word," to the more extreme "the translators of the KJV were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus the text of the KJV supersedes all other texts including, the Greek."

As you may remember, a while back I mentioned an issue that I hadn't quite decided how to respond to; this is that issue. The fact that I hadn't decided on a specific mode of response doesn't mean that I hadn't come to a conclusion about the issue or that I was unsure of my conclusion, but rather that the arguments I was presented with were mostly unanswerable. There were two main reasons for this: first, a large percentage of the arguments had demonstrable lack of foundation in logic, fact or both; second and more importantly, the more well-formed arguments presupposed assumptions I do not accept.

My intention with this post is to address the first of the reasons listed above by explaining the problems I see in some very common arguments and styles of argument, and address the second by responding to one of the better arguments. At that point, hopefully, my conclusion will be foregone, if it isn't already. This is admittedly an extremely long post, so please feel free to skip to my conclusion if you simply want the summary.

I will use three sources as a fairly representative sample of the arguments I reviewed in favor of the KJV as the only valid English translation. The first two I include because they were the two sources I was specifically asked to review, and I will try to address the logical, factual and methodological problems that prevent me from accepting their arguments. I include the third because it is the clearest and most rational presentation of a KJV-only position I have come across, and thus is the easiest to respond to. The three sources are:
  • Why We Stay With the Old King James Bible, by Pastor DeWayne Nichols. If you are interested in reading the whole booklet, you could probably obtain a copy by writing to:
    Liberty Baptist Church
    7421 Marbach Road
    San Antonio, Texas 78227
  • New Age Bible Versions: An Exhaustive Documentation Exposing the Message, Men and Manuscripts Moving Mankind to the Antichrist's One World Religion, by G. A. Riplinger. You can find quite a wealth of information about the book here.

  • Why the King James Version?, by Charles V. Turner, Ph.D. This multi-part article is available online.

First, I will look at the booklet Why We Stay With the Old King James Bible, by Pastor DeWayne Nichols. The author begins the booklet by explaining his position on the terms "inspiration" and "preservation," states his thesis that "we have the preserved Word of God in the English language in the King James Version" (p. 4), briefly addresses six common arguments made against the KJV, and then presents six arguments for the superiority of the King James Version. Interestingly, the author's thesis as quoted above is one I actually agree with; I believe that the King James Version is God's preserved Word. However, I do not agree with the unstated corollary to his thesis, which is that all other English translations are not God's preserved Word. I also do not think that the author is successful in either countering the arguments made against the KJV or in presenting valid arguments in favor of the KJV.

Briefly, the anti-KJV arguments the author addresses are among the weakest of all arguments against the KJV, i.e. attacks on the character of King James, references to revisions in the KJV, the archaic language, etc. — I agree with the author that these are not valid arguments against the KJV, and in any context they are simply reasons that someone would prefer a different translation.

However irrelevant these arguments are, the author did address them, so let me give a specific example of why the author's counter-arguments are insufficient. The last anti-KJV argument the author addresses is the archaic language that is "so difficult to understand." (p. 10) The author's counter argument is to list six examples where the KJV uses a word or phrase that is easier to understand than the corresponding word or phrase from one modern version (a different modern version for each example). He concludes his counter argument by stating, "I have a deep suspicion that the problem that most people have with the KJV isn't that they can't understand it; it is that they understand it only too well (and don't like what it says)!" (p. 11) For the author to dust off his hands in this way and declare his argument completed is insufficient. A thorough response to this argument would require more examples demonstrating greater clarity in the KJV over all of the versions the author is trying to counter, as well as a lack of derogatory statements about the morals of those who don't agree with him. Far better would be to simply admit that the KJV is more difficult for an unfamiliar reader to understand and let the point rest; since the author believes the KJV is God's intended text, the reading level should be irrelevant.

The more important arguments presented by the author are the six arguments in favor of the KJV. The author gives reasons for the superiority of the KJV on the basis of the text it was translated from, the culture of the time it was translated, the character of the translators, the process of the actual translation, the theology it contains, and the people who read it. I will not respond to all of these in detail on this blog, but here are some examples:
  • Regarding the text from which the KJV was translated, the author paints a black and white picture of history in which an oppressed church defends a holy and pure collection of documents from the Catholic church with its severely corrupted collection of documents created by heretics. This skewed view of history is combined with a flawed understanding of textual criticism: regarding the documents on which the KJV is based the author says, "the good manuscripts of the Bible were used and used and used by the people of God until they were worn out, therefore there will be very few, if any, truly ancient copies of the pure manuscripts because they will have been worn out long ago by usage", but the documents used in the modern translations "are older because they were rejected by the people of God as being corrupt, therefore they were not used, therefore they were not worn out, therefore they lasted longer than the pure manuscripts. Their age is a point against them, not a point in their favor!" (p. 17)

  • A common logical fallacy when arguing in favor of idea A and against idea B is a practice I have started to call, "The Best vs. The Worst." Specifically, it is the practice of finding a few examples related to idea A that are undeniably good things, finding a few examples related to idea B that are undeniably bad things, setting the two lists side by side and declaring, "Aha! Thus it is proved; A is clearly superior to B." The author engages in this fallacy when arguing in favor of the KJV on the basis "that the KJV translators were far above the translators of the modern versions when it comes to spirituality" (p. 23). From the dozens of scholars involved in translating the KJV, the author chooses four examples — a missionary, a man who was disinherited for leaving the Catholic church, a preacher, and a man who "in his diary, condemns himself for such sins as letting his mind wander during prayer" (p. 23) — and from the dozens of translators involved in each of the many modern translations, he chooses four examples — a man "involved in the worship of the Virgin Mary" (p. 24), two men who reportedly believed false doctrines, and "how about the lesbian who was on the translation committee of the New International Version! What a wonderful group of spiritual people gave us these modern Bibles!" (p.24).

  • A further fallacy the author falls into in his argument concerning spirituality is that of the gross generalization. In discussing the translator who was disinherited for leaving the Catholic church the author asserts, "This is a far cry from most of those involved in the modern translations, who have never given up one single thing in order to take a stand for God." (p. 23)

  • A final fallacy I would like to point out is that of referencing as proof evidence that is irrelevant to the point in question. As his final argument in support of the KJV, the author lists historical events as proof that "the KJV has been honored of God as has no other translation" (p. 33). Namely:

    • Two examples of KJV translators who were martyred "for the sake of the Bible" and no examples of modern translators being martyred — I'd like to point out, these were two men who lived during a time when people in English speaking countries were being martyred, as opposed to the modern translators who did not.

    • The KJV brought us the Protestant Reformation, gospel songs, the Great Awakening, and Spurgeon's sermons, while the modern translations brought us the Charismatic Movement, Benny Hinn and Christian rock music.

    • "The fact that KJV people tend to be different from other people" (p. 34). KJV churches as well, because "generally when you find a church which practices the twofold Scriptural admonitions of soulwinning and separation, it will be a King James church" (p. 35), soulwinning and separation being terms commonly used by independent Baptist churches to describe specific methods of witnessing and relating to worldly influences. Since the preference of the KJV is also a defining characteristic of independent Baptist churches, what this particular point boils down to is essentially the circular argument that "the KJV is proven to be superior by the fact that people who share our particular set of doctrines believe it is superior."
I list all of the above points in an attempt to demonstrate the pervasive factual bias and logical problems in Pastor Nichols' booklet, however well intentioned; for the reasons I listed, I cannot accept Pastor Nichols' argument.

The second book I was asked to review, New Age Bible Versions by G. A. Riplinger, turned out not to be written in defense of the KJV as the only valid English translation after all. Instead, that is the author's premise as she attempts to demonstrate that the translators of modern Bible versions were operating in collusion with Satanists and New Age religions to corrupt Christianity in preparation for the coming of the Antichrist. I'll simply be honest and say that I have not finished and never intend to finish reading this book. A reliable witness was in the room when I first began to read it, and can attest to my increasingly dumbfounded comments regarding not the point of the author's argument (though I do disagree with her), but rather the utter subjectivity and painstaking misrepresentation with which she goes about attempting to prove it; past the first hundred pages or so I have only skimmed.

The book is filled with highly selective, fragmented, out of context quotes from various theologians and translators whom the author wishes to represent as having the same views as Satanists and New Age spiritualists (often "proving" her point through the mere coincidence of two writers having used the same word or phrase), and for a book that on its cover calls itself an "Exhaustive Documentation", said documentation is surprisingly sparse. Pages of tables containing comparisons between words that the KJV uses and words that modern versions use are either completely devoid of references to the verses being compared, or else do not specify which of the numerous modern versions the author is arguing against contains the textual difference she is pointing out.

Of the many examples I will list only one before moving on to my next source: on page 17 is a table of word comparisons that implies that the modern versions strip explicit mentions of God from the Bible for the purpose of "preparing mankind to receive the Antichrist and 'worship the dragon'". One example she lists is Matthew 22:32, in which she claims the KJV uses the word "God" where the modern versions use "He". She is in fact correct in this, as you can see in the verse as quoted in full from the KJV and the NIV:
Matthew 22:32 (KJV)
I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Matthew 22:32 (NIV)
'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
As you can see, the KJV does in fact use "God" where the NIV uses "He"; however the author either didn't notice the four other occurrences of the word "God" in both translations of the verse, or deliberately chose not to mention them. Neither did she point out that never at any point in the verse from the NIV was the identity of God in doubt. I am confident in calling this example a representative sample of the author's methodology.

For a much more educated evaluation of this book, I recommend the review written by Dr. S. E. Schnaiter in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal.

The third and final source is an article titled Why the King James Version?, written by Dr. Charles V. Turner of the Baptist Bible Translators Institute. Dr. Turner states that the KJV is "the most accurate and reliable translation in the English language today" (p. 4) and "the only translation in the English language that is free from the presuppositions of modern Gnosticism [referring to modern textual criticism]" (p. 19). He argues this based on the Greek text from which the KJV is translated, the Textus Receptus (Received Text). Dr. Turner describes the origin of the documents that make up the Textus Receptus as follows:
"The letters and books of the New Testament began to be copied and passed around to other churches in the first, second and third centuries. Of course, in the copying of these books and letters, there were small errors made in the copying. ... but it was always a simple matter to correct an errant text by comparing it with the faithful inerrant copies held in trust by many faithful churches. This brought the errant copies back to the standard set by the original text. The only thing the churches had to do was check with several other churches and find out what the reading was in the other church copies. By doing this, the churches insured [sic] a valid text, and by this means, the text was preserved in its original form." (p. 6)
He describes a collection of "faithful inerrant" documents copied and recopied through a "simple, but completely accurate method" (p. 9), that is, "the checking of manuscripts with those of other faithful churches to insure [sic] that the text was transmitted without error" (p. 15). Dr. Turner offers the reader two choices:
"It comes down to two choices: accept the text handed down by faithful churches for two thousand years or accept the findings of modern textual critics, no two of which fully agree." (p. 13)

"He declared that his words would not pass away. We have his promise on it. We may believe Jesus or the textual critic whose basic assumption is that the New Testament is hopelessly corrupted." (p. 19)
The second point he argues based on Matthew 5:18, saying, "In this verse, Jesus declares that it is easier for heaven and earth to be destroyed than it is for the smallest part of a letter of Scripture to be destroyed."(p. 19) Letter for letter preservation is a very specific reading of that verse and one which, in the context of Matthew 5, I don't think applies.

Allow me to explain where I believe the flaw is in Dr. Turner's larger argument. Dr. Turner repeatedly refers to a majority of texts that agree with each other, and states that this majority of texts matches the original text "without error". This implies that there is a large collection of documents on which the KJV is based that exactly match each other word for word, which would make any attempt by modern scholars to alter that text very objectionable indeed. However, his implication is simply not true. We do have a very large collection of Greek documents substantiating the text and in the majority they do agree, but it is in the majority of each document's text that they agree, not as a majority of complete documents. What we in fact have, and indeed what was available when the Textus Receptus was first compiled, is a vast collection of documents, no two of which are exactly identical in their texts; all have minor variations from the others.

This leads me to the second point on which I have to disagree with Dr. Turner: in the quote above, Dr. Turner argues against "the textual critic whose basic assumption is that the New Testament is hopelessly corrupted." He takes the academic term "corrupt" to mean that the message of the text has been altered or damaged; in fact what the textual critic means by that term is very different. Dr. S. E. Schnaiter addresses this in the review I linked to above, saying about the difference between "pure" and "corrupt" in textual criticism:
"There is a purity with regard to the wording of a text that is different from the purity of the message. This merely recognizes that the same thing can be said reliably in more than one way. For example, there is no effect on the meaning of a statement like 'she denied her daughter permission to go,' if the wording is altered to read 'she refused to permit her daughter to go.' For a textual researcher who is trying to determine which of those was the original wording of a particular author, it is a question of wording purity. He may thereby refer to one text as 'corrupt' and the other as 'pure' without reference to the substance of the passage." (p. 113-114 in the published journal, p. 9-10 as numbered in the linked PDF)
I highly recommend reading Dr. Schnaiter's article for his description of the textual criticism process and the topic of preservation in general, which he describes much better than I, and in much more detail. Returning to my point, the textual critic may consider a document "corrupt" when in actuality he is making a determination not about the meaning of the text but rather its precise wording. Dr. Turner presents us with a choice between a textually flawless (meaning word for word identical with each other and the original) majority of documents that does not exist, and another nonexistent collection of documents fundamentally altered in meaning by modern scholars.

We do not have a majority of documents that are in perfect agreement word for word with each other or with the originals, nor was such a majority in existence when the Textus Receptus was compiled and the KJV translated; that idea is historically and evidentially untenable. What does this mean for us about our ability to rely on Scripture as God's preserved word? Precisely this: we can trust that the compiled Greek texts we have today represent God's preserved word because while they do not agree with each other when compared on a word for word basis, they do agree in content, and there are no differences that affect major doctrine. This is the third alternative that Dr. Turner does not present: the great magnitude of historical documentation that we do have, a collection that is unprecedented (though still undeniably imperfect) in its textual consistency but more importantly, unaltered in meaning. I will conclude by referring to Dr. Schnaiter once again:
"God has not seen fit to indicate to us in any objectively verifiable manner which of the various manuscripts exhibits the one true text. Since none of the autographs exists (a point which no one disputes) and since, as far as one can discern from the textual evidence, there does not exist any single, absolutely flawless copy of the autographs, it may be justly concluded that God is satisfied that His Word remains undisturbed amidst those variants." (p. 112 in the journal, p. 8 in the PDF)


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Google Fun, Part 2

I have been trying out the new Google browser this week. I'm actually liking it. It has some new features I like — the "Omnibox," the automatic assimilation of search boxes from other sites and the ability to drag and drop tabs, to name a few — and it lacks most of the annoyances that other non-IE browsers have. Namely, that Firefox and Safari take four or five times longer than IE to open (Google Chrome is even faster than IE) and they both have numerous little UI quirks that just make my life harder. Google Chrome is different from IE in big ways, but still keeps enough of the IE-like behavior I prefer — at first glance, the better parts of both worlds.

One potential issue I haven't experimented too much with yet is the fact that Google Chrome is based on the same rendering engine that Safari is based on. Hopefully the Google team have managed to avoid creating the same kind of intellectually challenged rendering I have so much enjoyed coding around for Safari.

As with every new Google product, experimentation turns my mind to thoughts of analytics, and Google Analytics is always good for an hour or so of entertainment. Highlights from the keywords that have brought visitors to my blog in the past month:
  • blockbuster movies that were duds (another number one listing)
  • nuclear total destruction
  • outer space trip report (I'm second, but I'm right above a listing for this blog — which, coincidentally, I just rediscovered a couple days ago when I was digging through old links — by a guy who actually has been to outer space...or at least he played someone who did on TV. Language alert, though.)

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Proximity and Priority

This post is a quick addendum to this earlier post. A friend of mine suggested that I make a point that was implicit in the earlier post a bit more explicit by, well, explicating a bit.

Specifically, the implicit point was this: I categorize doctrines into groups by importance. Perhaps that sounds bad to some of you; maybe you'll forgive me if I humbly suggest that you do it too. For instance, if someone came up to you with a gun, pointed it at your head and said, "Admit the possibility that the rapture may happen at the end of the tribulation rather than the beginning or the middle, or I will shoot you in the head." — would you cry as Patrick Henry did, "Give me premillenialism, or give me death!" or would you simply admit the possibility? I would do the latter because, on that particular doctrinal question, I'm not particularly sold either way and, more importantly, I don't think it affects whether or not you are a Christian.

Basically, I break my categories down like this:
  • Doctrines that indicate whether or not you are a Christian: doctrines in this category are pretty vital, and include things like God is Trinity, Jesus Christ is fully man and fully Divine, salvation is by faith alone, the authority of Scripture, etc.. If you and I disagree on doctrines in this category, then you and I do not worship the same God, and if you and I do not worship the same God, then we are not both Christians: we need to sit down and have a conversation.

  • Doctrines that indicate which church you should go to: these are doctrines like Calvinism, infant baptism, church government and the role of women in ministry. They are important to a lot of people and if you have a strong disagreement with a particular church on one of these issues, perhaps you should join a different church — none of the doctrines I place in this category affect whether or not you are a Christian.

  • Doctrines that indicate whether you are trying too hard: I hesitate to call these doctrines, but I will for the sake of consistency. Doctrines falling into this category include __millenialism, styles of music, and flavors of fried chicken (if you're a Baptist). If you get into an argument about any of these issues, then you're probably in sore need of a vacation.